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Three years into nonprofit ownership, The Philadelphia Inquirer is still trying to chart its future
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Nov. 17, 2010, 10 a.m.

The Magic 8 Ball of News: The Future-Jobs-O-Matic

American Public Media has built a better Magic 8 Ball. Okay, not exactly, but it’s just as fun to shake things up on the Future-Jobs-O-Matic game and find out your destiny. And better than the 8 Ball, it’ll tell you what your salary will be.

Released by the team at public radio’s Marketplace, the Future-Jobs-O-Matic is a game-ified (or maybe app-ified) way of breaking out data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specifically they’re breaking down the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the guide released every two years by the bureau outlining the jobs and industries that are expected to grow.

The guide is already available and searchable online (or in paperback, weighing in at more than 800 pages). But the team at Marketplace figured they could make the information more accessible — and maybe even fun — for their audience.

Taking a spin on the Future Jobs-O-Matic is as easy and familiar as picking a flight on a travel website. You start with a career field, ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to transportation and professional, and narrow it down to specific occupations and ultimately your Job of The Future.

Going several steps better than a high school guidance counselor, the Future Jobs-O-Matic provides a competitive outlook — will your field grow or shrink? — the change in job numbers over a decade, and the median income for 2010.

(The outlook for reporter? “News tip: Keep your eyes open.” For an author/writer/editor? “The internet could be your best chance.” For a network administrator? “Your future is bright. Really bright.”)

I emailed Adriene Hill, a multimedia reporter working on sustainability issues at Marketplace who worked on the project. She said displaying the labor data as an interactive feature gives the audience a better way of understanding information than a more straightforward story.

“We wanted users to engage with the information — to play with it,” she wrote.

The release of the game was timed to coincide with the fall election, as jobs were expected to be a big issue. But with Marketplace’s broader economic focus, the game fits into their continuing coverage on the recession. Hill told me it took around a month to develop and package the game, and similar to most data journalism, one of the larger tasks was figuring out what information was important to the public.

Hill said the game serves a basic function of helping people consider potential jobs, but also provide perspective on the economy. The editorial goals of the game, Hill said, were to examine future jobs, identify trends causing changes, and to “show that some of these changes in the labor market are unrelated to the claims and promises of politicians.”

American Public Media has a history with news games, having previously released Consumer Consequences, which shows the impact of society’s consumption habits on the environment, and Budget Hero, where players could try their hand at spending and cutting the federal budget. Hill said news games need to go beyond just good design and user experience — they need to fulfill the standard of news. “It also needs to meet some need the audience has. In our case, we wanted something simple that would be fast to produce and look at serious, long-term trends (trends that actually are depressing in some cases) and present them in a fun way,” she wrote.

POSTED     Nov. 17, 2010, 10 a.m.
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